Autopoiesis, biological autonomy and the process view of life

  • Anne Sophie MeinckeEmail author
Paper in the Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. EPSA17: Selected papers from the biannual conference in Exeter


In recent years, an increasing number of theoretical biologists and philosophers of biology have been opposing reductionist research agendas by appealing to the concept of biological autonomy which draws on the older concept of autopoiesis. In my paper, I investigate some of the ontological implications of this approach. The emphasis on autonomy and autopoiesis, together with the associated idea of organisational closure, might evoke the impression that organisms are to be categorised ontologically as substances: ontologically independent, well-individuated, discrete particulars. However, I argue that this is mistaken. Autopoiesis and biological autonomy, properly understood, require a rigorous commitment to a process ontological view of life.


Autopoiesis Biological autonomy Metabolism Organisational closure Organism Process ontology Substance ontology 



This paper was funded by the European Research Council, grant agreement number 324186 (“A Process Ontology for Contemporary Biology”, grant holder: John Dupré). Previous versions were presented in March 2017 at the workshop “Organisms: Living Systems and Processes” in Exeter, UK, organised by myself and John Dupré as part of the research project, and in September 2017 at the Conference of the European Philosophy of Science Association (EPSA) in Exeter, UK. I am grateful to the audiences for helpful discussions and suggestions. I am also grateful to John Dupré and to two anonymous referees for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK

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